A reminder of just how seriously weird the 1970s were.
I mentioned in this post that I used to work with a girl who knew Boy George in his pre-fame, Blitz Club days. One day she told me that this George bloke she knew had formed a band and put out their debut single called “White Boy” which I should buy because it was really good. I took her word for it and bought the 12″ unheard mostly because, to be honest, I fancied this girl something rotten (she looked like Siobhan out of Bananarama — more on them soon) and would have gladly bought a Bay City Rollers record if she’d told me Les McKeown was a friend of hers if I thought it would get me in her good books — though I think it goes without saying that I got nowhere with her. “White Boy” wasn’t a hit but because I had this record when Culture Club eventually appeared on TOTP with their first hit (and third single) “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?” I was one of the few people in England who didn’t think George was a girl.
I dug it out the other day during a spell of “I wonder what this sounds like now?” with some long-unplayed old records and it sounds pretty good with a similar white boy funk sound to “Chant No.1″ which came out the year before. Far as I know this version has never been issued on CD.
Download: White Boy (12″ version) – Culture Club (mp3)
(Photo: “Marilyn and Boy George outside their Carburton Street squat, London 1980″ by Derek Ridgers)
Bugger me, what a voice. She should have been singing duets with Rod Stewart (backed by The Faces) instead of Elton John.
The first James Bond film I ever saw at the pictures was “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” which my mum took me to see when it came out in 1969 — or rather, she went to see it and took me along. Though I was thrilled by the car chases and fights and the bloke who got killed by a snow plough — the snow turned red! brilliant! — as I was only seven years old at the time I was completely oblivious to the appeal of lovely Diana Rigg (Diana Rigg!) in the part of Bond’s love interest Tracy Di Vincenzo. In fact, the only thing I remembered about her in the film was that she got shot at the end (sorry — spoiler alert!)
Two years later my dad took me to see the next Bond film “Diamonds Are Forever” and by then I was older and more able to appreciate every element of the genre, not just the cars and action but, most importantly, the gorgeous women too which in this instance was well represented by Jill St. John who played Tiffany Case (it took me years to get that joke) and almost made me drop my Kia-Ora when she first appeared in that skimpy outfit Bond said she was “almost wearing.” I know “Diamonds Are Forever” isn’t rated very highly by aficionados but I regard it as my first “proper” Bond movie experience so it had a big impact on me and I still love it today. Yes, Tiffany Case is a very poorly-written character who changes from being a tough, capable cookie into an incompetent bimbo over the course of the movie but, as they say, you never forget your first and Jill St. John is still the Bond girl I would most like to have sitting next to me in my Aston Martin. If I had one, that is.
Download: Diamonds Are Forever – Shirley Bassey (mp3)
James Bond was a big part of my early cinema-going experience, my dad also took me to a double bill of “Goldfinger” and “Thunderball” (I still remember sitting in a cafe with him and my sister one rainy afternoon while he was scouring the newspaper for somewhere to take us that day, then he saw that was showing locally and breathed a sigh of relief) and we saw the first three Roger Moore Bonds on the day they came out at the Odeon Leicester Square where the queue would be going around the block. At that time I was too young to have in-depth conversations about the movies with my dad so I don’t really know what he thought of the Roger Moore films. I just loved the gadgets and action — especially the Kung Fu fights in “The Man with the Golden Gun” — and then there was Jane Seymour in “Live and Let Die” but that’s another story…
Comfort Food means different things to different people, for some it’s sweet things like chocolate and ice cream, for others stodgy pies and stews, but to me it means the rubbish I ate as a kid like sausage sandwiches covered in HP Sauce, double fried eggs and chips, beans on toast, or the simple yumminess of a chocolate Digestive biscuit dunked in a mug of hot tea. The pleasure of Comfort Food is heightened if it’s something unhealthy that you feel a little guilty and self-indulgent about eating (greasy and fatty helps for me) but, like Proust’s Madeleine, it evokes warm and happy memories of the past (what we Brits call “Nursery Food”) that your taste buds can make real in a way your brain can’t.
There’s also such a thing as Comfort Music (there is, I invented it the other week), the records you turn to — and turn up loud — when you fancy a bit of an indulgent wallow that are either soft and gooey or excessively fatty in some way. It helps if they aren’t “good” for you either, Al Green or Marvin Gaye might be very warm and comforting but they’re too “healthy” to be proper Comfort Music, too hip and acceptably cool to make you feel ever so slightly bad the way you do when you tell yourself “I really shouldn’t have eaten that whole tub of ice cream.”
For example, there’s “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty, a big stodgy slice of soft rock made by an old folky with a beard in 1978 when there were far more cutting-edge and radical things happening elsewhere. I should have hated it (Noel Edmonds liked it!) but I didn’t, because how could you not want to wallow in that orgasmic saxophone? The record manages to be both warm and cozy and excessively, epically fatty at the same time; the quiet bits evoke the lovely feeling of cold fingers wrapping around a mug of hot tea on a chilly London night, then the saxophone bursts in and it’s like biting into that wonderful sausage sandwich and feeling the grease and HP sauce combining to drown your taste buds in a wave of sense memory.
There are worse indulgences than this (which I will probably post at some point) but not many as wallow-worthy as this, especially in this 6-minute version which makes me want to loosen my belt and have a nap when it’s over.
Download: Baker Street – Gerry Rafferty (mp3)
Download: Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight – The Rezillos (mp3)
The English don’t like to brag but we used to think that we had the best television in the world, and while I don’t think it’s true anymore there was a time when it really was — honestly, trust me on that. Back in the 1970s (you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?) British TV was a jewel in the nation’s cultural crown, attracting the best writers and directors who created programs that were better and more original than almost anything you could see on stage or at the movies. I could fill several web pages just listing the classic shows back then, but a quick, back-of-the-envelope version would include “Pennies From Heaven”, “Play For Today”, “Till Death Do Us Part”, “The Family”, “Survivors”, “I, Claudius”, “The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin” and “The Sweeney”. Back then we might not have been able to make a car that anyone wanted to buy but we did know how to produce a great television program.
One of the most original programs from that era — and a must-watch ’round our house — was the flashy musical drama “Rock Follies” shown on ITV between 1976-77 about a fictitious all-girl singing group called The Little Ladies (played by Julie Covington, Rula Lenska and Charlotte Cornwell) struggling to make it in the music business. The most memorable thing about the show was that, like a musical, the story was punctuated by original songs performed by the group which were co-written by Andy Mackay of Roxy Music. It was the first television series to use music like this — two years before “Pennies From Heaven” did the same thing with old records.
(The other thing I remember most was the crush I had on Charlotte Cornwell, the pre-Raphaelite charms of Rula Lenska passed me by somehow.)
Beneath the Biba-esque glamour of its production design (albeit in a low-budget, community theatre sort of style) the show cast a very cynical eye on the political, cultural and economic landscape of 1970s England which was pretty much par for the course back then. It was broadcast just as punk was erupting and a lot of it’s attitudes were the same: rock stars have to sell their souls to make it, rock and roll itself was just an expression of capitalism, and the music business was run by sexist, manipulative creeps chasing after the next gimmick to make money out of — as displayed in this brilliant little scene.
Ironically the “real” music business was kinder to The Little Ladies, in the show they release a single called “OK?” which flops despite a lot of hype, but in a case of life not imitating art the record made the actual, non-fictional Top Ten and two albums of music from the show sold by the bucket which made Andy Mackay more money than he ever had in Roxy Music.
The phrase “rock musical” usually fills me with horror but I think this one pulled it off better than most, if nothing else it’s a great time capsule of the looks, style and hipster attitudes of England right on the cusp of punk.
Trivia: A review of the show in Time Out was headlined “It’s The Buzz, Cocks!” which inspired the name of a certain Manchester punk band.